JUST BEFORE LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE, the NEC decided that there would be a fundamental review of party democracy, conducted by Katy Clark (ex- Scottish MP, now political secretary to Jeremy Corbyn) and two left NEC members, Claudia Webbe and Andy Kerr.
The commitment to this review was used to persuade several CLPs to withdraw their proposed rule changes rather than having them voted on (and probably lost) at conference. In doing so, however, several delegates made clear they would be watching the review closely and would be back with their proposals if they did not feel their concerns had been adequately addressed. Now the remit and timetable for the democracy review have been announced. It is to be run in three phases, with staggered deadlines:
- On the organisational aspects of Young Labour, BAME Labour and Women’s conference, the deadline is 12th January 2018.
- For submissions on “all other aspects of diversity and participation, your local party and building a mass movement”, the deadline is 23rd March.
- For submissions on “electing our leadership, how we make policy and the way we work”, it is 28th June.
It is clear that the intention is to have conclusions going to 2018 conference for voting. While this makes some windows for participation short, such a review is well overdue and the sooner some fundamental changes are made the better. And a holistic review is far better than changing rules piecemeal.
Of course, none of this guarantees an outcome favourable to the left. For that to happen, activists have to encourage as many members as possible to submit proposals, win CLP and union support, lobby review and NEC members and carefully scrutinise proposals which come from the review.
While the review is far-ranging, and covers many important areas, there are also gaps in the remit which need questioning. Among these is the issue of a full democratic selection process for parliamentary (and council) candidates, ending the current procedure of trigger ballots. (Katy Clark has said this is outside her remit.) Disciplinary procedures, the Compliance Unit and issues of natural justice do not appear to be covered, either.
There is no reason why we should accept these limitations. Submissions should be made on anything and everything which concerns members about the functioning of the Party. And if this is outside the remit, let the review team explain why they will have ignored hundreds of submissions on an issue - and we can use that impetus to push for additional changes through rule changes if necessary.
On many issues it will be a matter of knowing the right questions to ask rather than simply being led by the review’s guidelines. So, for instance, in the section “how we make policy,” it asks “What are your views on the National Policy Forum and how it works?” Many (especially newer) members will not know how the NPF works, or that it was introduced as part of Blair’s counter-reforms precisely to take power away from conference. The Labour Representation Committee has long had a policy of scrapping the NPF and restoring full power to conference. The earliest deadline is for some areas that need the most fundamental changes.
Many members have raised doubts about democracy in both BAME Labour and Young Labour. The recent re-election of Keith Vaz to the BAME Labour place on the NEC was certainly questioned. At conference a young delegate raised the issue of the privileged position Labour Students hold within Young Labour and the fact that Young Labour does not have a constitution and standing orders decided on at their AGM.
Women’s conference is a large bone of contention, pitched in recent years as a mere add-on to national conference with no right to submit resolutions to conference, no policy-making powers of its own, and no structures. An urgent need is to ensure the empowerment of women members throughout the Party.
There are other grossly undemocratic areas of the Party, especially around local government, with no ability for the Party to elect the local leader, write the local manifesto or decide local policy in relation to local authorities.
We encourage readers to make submissions to all areas of the review. There will, without doubt, be suggestions for submissions from campaigns and the likes of Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Momentum, and these should be used where appropriate. Briefing also asks readers to send articles or letters covering areas of the review which can be printed over the next months. The review is probably a one-time opportunity to seriously transform the functioning of the Party. We have to use it to the utmost.